Native American

Octopus Bag

Artist: Elizabeth Jacob

Culture/People: Webequie First Nation (Northern Ojibwa),

Place: Subarctic, Webequie, Northern Ontario

Media:Smoked caribou hide, beads, cotton canvas, and felt

Dims: 35.75 x 8.25 in. (90.8 x 21 cm).

Date: c. 1980s

Description: This octopus bag by Elizabeth Jacob from Webequie First Nation (Northern Ojibwa) has a background of white beads surrounded by colorful floral designs. The beaded floral elements depict stems, buds, blooming flowers, and leaves with four shades of green. The bag’s interior is lined with cotton canvas and two caribou hide strips to close the bag. The reverse of the bag, which is not beaded, displays the fully smoked caribou hide.

Octopus is a reference to the dangling tentacle-like tabs at the base of the pouch. Before the coined term octopus bag, they were known as “fire bags” to the Métis and were used to carry fire-starting tools, tobacco, pipes, and ammunition.

There is an entry from Ted about the time he visited a friend in Manitoulin Island. While out and about, Ted came across an octopus bag similar to this one. It was clear that it was by the same artist, so he immediately asked for the information, and the name Elizabeth Jacob was given. In Ted’s previous provenance records, Louise Q. Bea was the listed maker. The friend had also mentioned Elizabeth is the daughter of Elder and former Chief Josie Jacob from Webequie First Nation of Ontario, Canada. Unfortunately, there is no further information on Elizabeth.

To learn a little more about octopus bags, here is an article on Métis artist Jennine Krauchi. She mentions some historical context on the octopus bag. It also highlights a 26-foot tall octopus bag she created for an exhibition at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in 2016.

RTC No: NA0708
Gift of Ralph T. Coe, 2011

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